In the intimate Noorda Blackbox Theater, students performed “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” Though this play illustrates harrowing realities, it also offers a message of hope.

Based on true stories, the play gives a heartbreaking depiction of Jewish children in Terezin, a concentration camp during the Holocaust. The story centers around one of the survivors from Terezin, Raja — played by Hallie Purser, a sophomore acting major.

“The message of the story is hope,” Purser explained. “It has given me a lot of hope in my own life. Just seeing these people and what they went through and how they found hope — if they, through all of that, were able to grasp onto little bits of light then I don’t see why I can’t.”

Hallie Purser playing the role of Raja in “I Never Saw Another Butterfly”.

The actors were given historical packets by Tyler Botill, the dramaturg who is in charge of conducting research and relaying historical context. Botill gave cast members the packets as a way to help them get acquainted with the time, events and people they were depicting. Purser said she interacted with Botill extensively to better understand Raja and her story.

David Chamberlin and Carlee Baldwin, both senior theater arts majors, spoke about how connected the cast and crew were throughout the production. Chamberlin played Honza, Raja’s friend and love interest, and Baldwin played Irena, Raja’s teacher. Chamberlin and Baldwin expressed the great comradery they felt with the other cast members.

The set pieces were simple wooden platforms, and the actors used the various heights and stairs of these platforms to aid their blocking throughout the performance. One of the platforms they incorporated moved across the floor, simulating the trains coming in and out of the concentration camp.

“It’s a beautiful production. All of our designers have taken it really seriously… They all were so focused on making sure it was the best it could be,” said the stage manager and theater arts major, Whitney Black.

Instead of happening on a raised stage, the performance took place on the floor just feet from the small audience.

A series of screens were set up behind the set pieces. Artwork the children made while in Terezin was projected onto these screens along with the names of some of the children who died in the camp. At the end of the play, the screens were filled with butterflies.

Bailey King, a sophomore theater arts major, was one of the makeup supervisors for the performance. He said he enjoyed this position in the crew even though the makeup for this production was fairly minimal.

“Since we get done with our work pretty quick I was able to come in and watch the show one of the nights before everything was put together,” said King. “I was in tears … I have a soft spot for this topic and I really enjoy all of the actors and the production team.”

In the program, a note from the director, Kynsie Kiggins, discusses the importance of a beautiful story like this being told.

“When we learn of the Holocaust the human element is often missing… We miss the light to be found in the dark, and without recognizing, learning, and growing from the dark, the opportunity to find the light can be dimmed,” Kiggins writes. “As the children of Terezin have taught, the world is full of loveliness.”

The cast and crew talked about how this story is a message of hope, and they spoke about how much this story impacted them and how they tried to convey the depth of the message to the audience.

“Every night before the show I say ‘for Raja’ and then I go on stage,” Purser said. “It’s for her and spreading her story of hope.”

Photography by Johnny Morris

Instagram: @_johnny.morris_